radio review

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The Independent Culture
The thing that people without children never seem to appreciate is the full-blooded, gutsy thrills involved in rearing the next generation. "Without Issue", a feature on Radio 4 last night about why women choose not to have children, opened with a stereotypically cute little montage of childhood sounds - a tinkling musical box and a lisping voice reciting a nursery rhyme ("There was an old woman who lived in a shoe...").

If infancy really was as icky as it sounded there, childlessness ought not to be so much an option as a legal obligation. But to have children is not to cut yourself off from the dirt and squalor and moral depravity of everyday life; it's to be thrust into a new world of primal emotion, of instinctive violence unconstrained by fear or scruple. One male interviewee on "Without Issue" complained that parents he knew seemed to use children as an excuse not to do interesting and exciting things. The poor sap: sure, whitewater rafting may offer more of a physical challenge than putting a pair of dungarees on a protesting two-year-old; but it's unlikely to offer a more intense emotional experience. Children are a test of character more exacting than anything you're likely to encounter outside Homer.

Speaking - as you've probably deduced - as a parent, I've always thought that not having children was a perfectly reasonable option. "Without Issue" left me less sympathetic. Early on, one woman complained that people told her that not having children was selfish, and Liz Lochhead, who linked the interviews with a polemical commentary, took her side: after a succession of interviewees talked about how they wanted their sleep, and wanted money, and didn't want the responsibility, she asked whether it would be kind for such people to have offspring.

It's a fair point; all the same, it was hard not to be struck by the rampant individualism on display here - epitomised by the traveller Christina Dodwell, who talked about her ideal moments, on top of a mountain with virtually no human life for miles. Perhaps they didn't realise it, but these people came across as devout Thatcherites, dedicated to the belief that there's no such thing as society.

The opposite view was put by Maureen Freely, who spoke eloquently of the joy of associating with children, and the sense of continuity she gained from having them. There were other impressive moments - a couple discovering mid-interview that she had been broody without telling him; a painter musing on whether she could combine motherhood and art. But it left a faint sense of irritation - a nagging feeling that you'd only been told half the story.

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